Fighting for a Harem

As every female elephant seal at Año Nuevo State Park completes the 28-day nursing period for her pup, she enters estrus, and every male elephant seal wants to be the one to mate with her. The males fight to settle the resulting disputes of who’s the biggest, strongest male elephant seal on the beach, and the winner gets a harem of females.

The male northern elephant seal typically weighs 1,500–2,300 kg (3,300–5,100 lbs) and measures 4–5 m (13.2–16.5 ft) — heavier and longer than most cars. This sequence of photos starts with a male chasing another male and spans 25 seconds. The photo captions show the time offset from the initial chase photo, so +2 seconds is 2 seconds after the chase photo.

At +36 seconds after the chase shot, I tried taking a video. You can hear our docent saying that most fights don’t last this long. The video’s kind of skaky — handheld at 400 mm with a Canon 6D.

At +1 minute 35 seconds, they were still going at it.

+1:35 still going at it
+1:35 still going at it

This male was sleeping at the end of the beach, away from the females. Judging from his remote location and the red wounds on his neck, he had fought and lost.

male bloodied after a fight
male bloodied after a fight

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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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